The idea is that those arrested for participating in the riot — including the 185 people arrested for “assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers or employees,” in the words of the Justice Department, 55 of whom “have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer” — have been targeted unjustly. That the riot wasn’t a riot at all, just a demonstration, maybe with a few bad apples. That the effort to prosecute the participants is simply the Biden administration trying to target Republicans.
It’s an idea that fundamentally downplays the scale of what happened that day. It’s also an idea that has gained ground with Republicans over the past six months.
New polling from the Pew Research Center shows a significant decline since March in the percentage of Americans who say it’s very or somewhat important to find and prosecute those involved in the riot. That shift is entirely a function of decreasing concern among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
When considering only those who say such prosecutions are very important, that decline is more dramatic. In March, about half of Republicans said this was important; now, about a quarter do. Among Republicans and leaning independents who in June said that Joe Biden won the 2020 election, about 43 percent said the prosecutions were very important. Among the Republicans who told Pew that Trump won (which, of course, he didn’t), less than 1 in 5 said it was important to find and prosecute the rioters.
Note the language used in Pew’s question: How important is it that “federal law enforcement agencies find and prosecute those who broke into and rioted at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6”? It’s specifically talking about those bad apples, in apolitical terms. But Republicans don’t think that’s important.
In another question, Pew asked respondents whether the amount of attention paid to the events of that day was too little or too much. Most Democrats said too little; most Republicans said too much.
It’s certainly the case that politics is inextricable from the events of that day. It’s also unsurprising that Republicans should be more wary of scrutinizing a day in which supporters of a Republican president violently interfered with the transition of presidential power to a Democrat. The diminishment of concern over the Capitol riot on the right, though, also creates space for Trump and his allies to amplify the idea that it’s all political.
Trump has multiple motives to do so. By diminishing the importance of the riot, he also diminishes his culpability in its occurrence. By doing so he also again reinforces the us-against-them version of politics that defined his ascent and presidency.
We love the police, Trump said repeatedly during his time in office and during his campaigns. According to the Justice Department, 140 police officers were assaulted during the riot. In this case, Trump sees it as more politically useful to say that those who face criminal charges for those acts are being “persecuted so unfairly” than to simply say nothing. Republicans increasingly seem to agree.